This week’s parasha, Vayeitzei, begins with Jacob alone in the wilderness. He had just been sent out by his father Isaac to go find a wife from their homeland in Padan-Aram. It is somewhat a parallel when Abraham sent his servant to find a wife for Isaac. Neither Abraham nor Isaac were fans of the local Canaanite women.
This was most likely the first time Jacob was all alone on a journey. We can imagine that perhaps he was tired and scared when the sun began to set. He lay down to sleep and there he had a vision of a stairway to heaven with angels ascending and descending the ladder. Thereupon God spoke to Jacob and told him, “Hinei Anochi Imach, here I am, with you. I will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this soil…”
Upon waking, Jacob proclaimed, “Truly, the Eternal is in this place, and I did not know it!” (Genesis 28:15-16)
There are a handful of interpretations of this vision of the ladder. In Vayikra Rabbah 29:2, one of the midrashic commentaries, the angels ascending represent the four nations aligned against Israel: Babylon, Media-Persia, Greece and lastly Edom (or Rome). Each of these nations ascended over Israel, but were ultimately brought low, while Israel remained.
Jacob, in his moment of vulnerability possibly saw himself as always being alone and vulnerable. So too with the nation of Israel; at the hands of her occupiers, probably felt that She would always be an occupied nation.
One of the elements of being human is that we tend to see the current moment as the projection of what the future will be. Social science explains that we are influenced by our own unconscious biases. We also crave control, which leads us to believe that we know what will happen next. But the truth is, we can only predict what is coming, and studies show, we are terrible at predicting.
What does this mean? The Torah is stating that Jacob, needs to have faith that his journey will be unexpected, and that the future is not set. Jacob should also rest assured that God will be with him on every step of this journey.
Uncertainty is part of life. In order to make our way through it, we are to cherish the moments of sacredness and holiness when unexpectedly encounter them. And we should be thankful to all of those who are a part of our life’s journeys.
Jacob, who was alone and sacred, was on the verge of encountering the love of his life, being tricked by his uncle, fathering the foundation for a nation, moving to Egypt, and being reconciled with a long-lost son. But at this moment, all he knows is that the road ahead was uncertain, and that he wanted to take the next step into the journey.
Rabbi Benjamin A. Sharff